Friday, May 30, 2008

Peanut sauce

A while ago, some friends brought this peanut sauce to my house to pour over stewed collards. It is really tasty on greens. I like to put it on cooked soba noodles with sliced, blanched carrots for a simple meal. It would also be good served as a satay sauce with grilled chicken that's been marinated with soy, some oil, and garlic.

1/3 C peanut butter
2 T *toasted* sesame oil
2 T tamari
3 T rice vinegar OR Chinese black vinegar
1/4 t of cayenne pepper or to taste
1 t sugar or to taste
1 large clove of garlic or to taste
Juice of one lime

Put everything in the blender and process until smooth and there you have it!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers: White chocolate opera cake

After the questionable cheesecake-on-a-stick recipe, I was was very pleased to find out that the May challenge recipe for the Daring Bakers was a delightful French confection known as an opera cake. Generally an opera cake is made with dark chocolate. Our version specified that we had to use white chocolate and other flavorings light in color in honor of springtime. It's a beautiful, elegant recipe that tastes fantastic! Homemade real buttercream is well worth the trouble.

This recipe and this posting are dedicated to Barbara of Winos and Foodies in appreciation for her courage and activism in the face of cancer. Good job, Barbara! Keep up the good fight!

Several components comprise an opera cake: layers of almond cake called a joconde, flavored simple syrup, buttercream, mousse, and a ganache topping. I knew this recipe would be time consuming. I decided to flavor it with Chambord, a raspberry liquor, and fresh raspberries.

This recipe is based on recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

For the joconde:

What you’ll need:

•2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans (Note: If you do not have jelly-roll pans this size, do not fear! You can use different-sized jelly-roll pans like 10 x 15-inches.)
•a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)
•parchment paper
•a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer
•two mixing bowls (you can make do with one but it’s preferable to have two)


6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds (Note: If you do not want to use almond meal, you can use another nut meal like hazelnut. You can buy almond meal in bulk food stores or health food stores, or you can make it at home by grinding almonds in the food processor with a tablespoon or two of the flour that you would use in the cake. The reason you need the flour is to prevent the almonds from turning oily or pasty in the processor. You will need about 2 cups of blanched almonds to create enough almond meal for this cake.)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

2.Preheat the oven to 425◦F. (220◦C).

3.Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

4.In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.

5.If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

6.Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).

7.Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

8.Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.

9.Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

10.Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

For the syrup:

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan


½ cup (125 grams) water
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavouring of your choice (i.e., vanilla extract, raspberry liquor, almond extract, cognac, limoncello, coconut cream, honey etc.)

1.Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.

2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the buttercream:

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a candy or instant-read thermometer
•a stand mixer or handheld mixer
•a bowl and a whisk attachment
•rubber spatula

2 cups sugar
½ cup water and
1¾ cups butter

1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk

flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)

1.Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.

2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) .

3.While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.

4.When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!

5.Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).

6.While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.

7.With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.

8.At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.

9.Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

For the white chocolate mousse:

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a mixer or handheld mixer


7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)

1.Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.
2.Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.
3.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
4.Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.
5.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.
6.If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

For the glaze

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan or double boiler


14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)

1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.
3.Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

Assembling the Opéra Cake

(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup. Spread about three-quarters of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up.

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Nana's for dinner

Friday night I went to Nana's with two friends. For dinner we shared three very delicious starters: duck pate, crab and asparagus with a butter sauce, and wagyu beef meatballs with pasta and ricotta salata cheese. We drank a Gruener Vetliner that was dry, minerally, and chalky.

The mild and creamy pate is always delicious at Nana's. It is served with a variety of pickles, coarse grain mustard, raspberry preserves and crostini.

I enjoyed the crab the most on Friday. It's hard to beat the delicate crab and asparagus flavors enhanced by a butter sauce. The chef at Nana's really outdid himself. Run to Nana's to get the crab and asparagus!

One of my friends enjoyed the meatballs the most. The tiny meatballs were made of wagyu beef. Wagyu is a type of cattle that is typically fed a diet of beer resulting in intensely marbled meat. It's also known as Kobe-style beef which is generally priced outside of what I'm willing to pay for food. I am not sure that I can tell the difference between Kobe and regular beef, but the meatballs were certainly flavorful and tender. The pasta and meatballs starter would be fine for a light dinner.

For dessert we shared a coconut pound cake with creme caramel sauce and blackberries. I could have polished it off singlehandedly with no problem!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bloody Mary with a twist

My fabulously stylish friend in Pinehurst, who has a real savoir de vivre, gave me this recipe that he devised one morning with friend when, blessedly, they discovered no celery in the fridge.

Stir in a tall glass:
vodka - you say when
V8 Juice - to top off the vodka
splash of Worcestershire sauce

1 green onion stalk in each glass
1 full Arugula leaf
1 sprig of rosemary
sprinkle one shake of fennel seed for flavor

Look how pretty:

Give me fennel, arugula, green onion, and rosemary over celery any day!

Monday, May 12, 2008


At least once this year, I plan to capture and prepare my own food. I already have taken a hunter's safety class, bought a fishing and hunting license, and been given as gifts various tools like fishing pools and shotguns.

This weekend I was at the coast so I decided try crabbing. Blue crab are in season. I love fresh crab meat and sitting on a dock or pier in the sun waiting for crab to bite sounds like a luxury to me. Additionally, crabbing is low tech, inexpensive and fun. No, I didn't set out a crab pot.

We tied a chicken leg to some fishing line, tossed it in, and waited. Some of us waited longer than others. I realized that I need to work on patience! After a while, we'd pull up the lines very slowly to see if a crab was hanging on. Sometimes we could feel them wrestling the chicken leg but sometimes we couldn't. When we saw a crab claw hanging on the the chicken as we pulled up the lines, we tried to scoop the crab into a net. It sounds easier than it actually is, surprisingly!

One of my companions caught a gorgeous female blue crab. She was fierce...and I don't mean fierce as it is currently being bandied about in fashion circles. I mean cut-your-finger-in-half fierce. She was angry and ready to fight. We might have lost some digits trying to get her into a pot even with tongs and gloves. Every time we opened the cooler to admire her, she'd jump into the air with claws ablazin'.

After a couple of hours we still only had the one crab. They were biting but we were too hasty in pulling them up or too clumsy with the nets. I decided that it wasn't right to eat only one, especially a mature female that would be better served making crab babies than in a crab Louie. We let her go.

I definitely want to go crabbing again. Although I am very humbled to learn that if relied on my own prowess to keep myself fed, I'd probably die of hunger.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Daring Bakers: Chocolate cheesecake on a stick

I joined a group of online bakers some months ago. Each month we are given a recipe that everyone tries and then on the same day we post about our results.

In March I was too traumatized about my Tibet trip to cook an elaborate cake. Then in April I made the recipe and forgot to post it! Oops! So now, two weeks late, here is my version of the Daring Bakers' chocolate cheesecake on a stick:

I am not going to share the recipe with you because, frankly, I did not like this recipe. When I first read the recipe I was sorely disappointed. I love chocolate and I love cheesecake but not together. I don't know why. I also believe that neither dark, luscious, French chocolate nor unctuous, creamy cheesecake should ever suffer the ignominy of being put on a stick.

Should you be compelled to try this, all you have to do is make any cheesecake according to the recipe but without the crust. Then you chill it and roll it into balls and put sticks you've bought from Michael's craft store in them. Then you put the balls in the freezer to harden for several hours. Melt some chocolate an dip the balls in it. If you really want to go for broke then roll them in rainbow sprinkles.

These might be fun for a party. The downside is that the cheesecake balls fall off of the sticks as soon as they get to room temp.

So, on second thought, just make a nice cheesecake and forget the sticks.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Trip to Florida's Gulf coast

My second cousin got married at Long Boat Key in Florida over the weekend. I met my mother down in Tampa and we drove to the key for the wedding. I now know that the food scene down there is quite exciting. We ate well the entire long weekend!

We started out by splurging at Wright's Gourmet in Tampa. We had the best Cuban sandwiches there. Cuban sandwiches are ham and pork on baguette style of bread with mustard sauce, cheese and pickles. It is pressed like panini in a sandwich machine. We shared a piece of fantastic chocolate cake and also a piece of rum cake. The chocolate cake at Wright's is moist and fluffy. It is loaded with frosting. YUM! The rum cake is a rich butter cake lightly soaked in rum so it isn't at all stodgy. It is also topped with pecans. We bought cream cheese brownies and a seven layer bar to go. They were good but the cakes were the best.

The next day we had stone crab claws, currently in season, for lunch at a place in St. Armand's Circle in Sarasota. The stone crab claws are large and fat. They are loaded with crab meat. That night we went to the wedding. It was really fun and the food was good. The cake truly rocked though. The tiers were different flavors. I had chocolate with cherry filling and white icing.

On Sunday my mother and I ate dinner at a darling place called Euphemia Haye. My mother ordered fried green tomatoes coated in bread crumbs served with a pecan pesto, feta cheese, and a roasted red pepper reduction. We both thought it was one of the tastiest dishes we've had in a while. If you've never had fried green tomatoes then you are missing out! I ordered a specialty pizza topped with roasted, barbecued duck and shitake mushrooms. Love some duck!

Euphemia Haye offers desserts that are truly a sight to behold. The meringues defy gravity. My mom and I shared a coconut cream pie. The coconut cream filling was unctuous and rich. It was topped with fresh whipped cream. The pie crust disappointed us somewhat. It was tough in texture and dull in taste. It needed some butter to give it more flavor.

Just when I thought we couldn't eat any better, we had lunch on Monday at Spanish/Cuban place called Columbia Restaurant in St. Armand's Circle. My mother had the lunch special, a stuffed chicken breast. I cannot recall what was in it but it was gorgeous and delicious. I ate shrimp salteado which had chorizo, peppers, onions, and potato cooked with the shrimp.

Needless to say, after all of the wonderful food, I am feeling rather Rubenesque and will be eating plain, fresh veggies for a few days.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Morels on toast

Morel mushrooms are in season now. These wonderful morsels are outrageously expensive at $35/lb if you can find them. They are not widely farmed so we pay for the fact that someone is out hunting for them. My lucky brother is currently in possession of a whole pound of morels. He requested this recipe.

Apparently morels proliferate in northwest Missouri where my father has a farm. One day I will go hunt for morels. That sounds more fun to me than hunting for deer which also happens on my dad's farm.

Anyway, if you happen to find or buy some morels, then try this recipe that I printed from the NYT on May 16, 2007. I made the dish a few days ago with some morels I picked up at WholeFoods. It is equally good with chanterelles or any other mushroom.

1/2 lb or so of morel mushrooms, trimmed ends
2 T unsalted butter, plus more for toast
1 large shallot, chopped
2 T white wine or vermouth
1/4 c. heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
4 slices of brioche or sourdough or any gorgeous bakery bread
1 T chopped chives
Fleur de sel or other salt

Clean the mushrooms by brushing them with a soft bristled pastry brush. Do not put them in water. Slice in half (longways) and brush again. The brushing is a pain but the mushrooms are gritty since they come out of dirt (funny how that happens). I didn't quite get all of the grit out of mine. Chop mushrooms into rough pieces.

Melt butter in a pan over medium-high. Add shallots and cook until soft, about 3 min. Add mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add wine. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for 5 minutes more. Uncover and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in cream, simmer for 2 minutes or until slighly thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Toast bread slices and spread with butter. Sprinkle with chives. Top with mushrooms. Sprinkle with more chives and sea salt.

Be happy.